The Premier Pet Fish Wesite - Established 1996

Diy Sump

By SerVo
Theory behind the sump:
Sumps add more water and surface the the biological system. A 55 gallon aquarium with a 10 gallon sump has the water stability of a 60-65 gallon aquarium. Sumps can also be "bio-active" meaning they house benifical plants. In a saltwater system, red mangroves or macro remove nitrates and other nucience chemicals. Sumps also provide housing for unsightly equipment you may not want hanging on the back of your tank.


The benefit for building your own can easily be seen. A typical sump system runs easily $200. You can make one just as good if not better for $50. If you still wanted to spend the $200, then you could make yourself a really really good sump system.

Materials: Cost:
Pvc pipe, 1/2" or 3/4" works nicely, about 3 feet Under $2
Pvc 90* elbows, size matching your pipe, about 10 About $0.20 apiece
Flexable tubing, size to fit into or onto the pvc pipe, 8-10' About $0.30 a foot
2 specimen containers (picture below), lee brand Around $6
Pump or powerhead, 200gph+ Around $20 for (200gph)
Tank, 10gallon plus reccommended $10 for a 10 gal. tank
Suction cups, like from wally-world $1.50
Glue like calk or super glue $1 (super glue)
Total About $50

Soldiering iron or plastic cutting device (blowtorch works too)
Utility knife
Hack saw

specimen container
This is an exaple of the specimen container by Lee. They make two sizes: I used the smaller one but if you want to make a larger overflow / skimmer, then you can use the larger one, its all the same. If you can't find them, they have them online at Drs Foster and Smith.
The first part I like to make is the skimmer. This part controls how high the water level is in your main tank. Also it skims debri of the water surface, another plus. When modifiying the parts, you can either cut / melt / or saw the pieces, so do which ever you perfer. Take one of the specimen containers and take off the part that hangs onto the tank. Next, put about 1/4" slits down the top of the top. The skimmer will need to say in place, so put 3-4 holes big enough that you can wedge your suction cup ends into.
When you get done, it should look like this.
Looks simple, well it is. You don't really even need to look at the directions to make this part.

The next part, the overflow. This is basically a siphon, but it is more complicated (but not much, so don't fret). Take the other specimen container. The first thing to do is to put a hole in the bottom (a blowtorch works really good here, but soldering iron is just as good). The hole should be just big enough to wedge one of those pvc elbows into it. Calk it in there good. Cut a 2" piece of pvc pipe and that goes into the elbow inside the container. Another 2" piece goes onto the other side of the elbow. Then, hook another elbow onto that piece of pvc pipe, angle the elbow down. Confusing? Well here's a couple of pix that will explain it all:
overflow hole overflow complete
If you want to make a more powerful skimmer, you can make another one or two of these.

Trust me, the hard part of making the sump is over, but still only half done. The part that actually siphons needs to be built.
This part takes water form the skimmer and puts it into the overflow. To start, cut out 2 pieces of 4" pvc pipe and a piece of 2" pvc pipe. Put an elbow on each piece of 4" pvc pipe and connect the two by the 2" pvc pipe. Need a pic, why not:


You can make 1 to 4 of these that easily fit on the smaller specimen containers. You can fit more on the larger ones, but 2 are ussually enough. It is best to glue these onto the overflow (the part that hangs onto the tank).

Phew.. I'm tired just typing this out by now, can't imagine how you are.
Your pump needs to be able to fit your flexable tubing. If it already does with a tight seal, skip this part. However if it doesn't, some modifications are necessary. With a powerhead or pump, you can just glue & calk on a piece of pvc pipe onto the output of the pump. Hm.. I think we need some visiual reference. Oh got one:
This is not part of the same sump, but basically the same thing.

complete sump
All that is left is putting on the flexable tubing. Now you can just stick and use the hard pvc. Infact that could be cheaper, but harder being you have to cut it and put more elbows into it. If you tubing fits into the pipe, push it in and glue it. This I did my first sump this way and it is still holding, but I feel it is not the best way. If it fits on the outside, glue it and put on a clamp or some support onto it if you can. A pic looks like so:
You can see how it looks. This pic is a 29 gallon tank with a 29 gallon sump! Overkill... Na.
In the picture, you can see one important thing that I haven't yet covered. Where the two ends of pipe goes. From the overflow box to the sump, the tubing can just lead into the sump. [in the pic I cut a hole into the filter lid and it leads into the filter] However somehting needs to hold the line to the main tank. Easy as Chrismas pie.


You can make another siphon to hang onto the tank and connect the line to that. If you do that way, drill a hole above the water line onto the elbow closest to the tank. This prevents siphoning back. Or you can hook it up to a filter/ biowheel like below. Yes, more beautiful pics:
coupling bio-wheel
Both of these will work, depends on how fancy you want to do it.
Setting it up is easy. Put the skimmer into the tank and get it where you want it. (about 1" below water surface to start). Your sump should start with no water. Hang the overflow to where it is aligned with the skimmer. Put your lines in place. Also your return pump should be in place and ready to go, but not on now. Take a piece of airline tubing up into one of the siphon all the way up. Then suck out the air. You'll notice the siphoning sucking up water and water will start flowing into the sump. When the sump fills to where you want it (75% is good) raise the overflow to the water line. Watch it run for about 10 minutes atleast. You'll notice that the rates that the water flows into the sump and flows back into the tank will equal out. If you need to add water, do so now. Adjust the skimmer up or down to control how full the sump and main tank is.


More information is better than not enough, is it not? Well I'm full of it (information that is...)
When you raise the skimmer, your water level will rise in your tank and lower in your sump. Also as water evaporates from your tank, you main tank water will stay the same, only drop in your sump.
When the power goes out, water will stop flowing to the main tank and the water will keep flowing to the sump. If you left the sump 75% full or less, it will be able to hold the water until the power turns on. Then the water levels will go back to normal. Hmm. Handy!

All that is left is to put what ever you want into the sump. Also if you want to modify the sump plans go ahead, its not like I invented it. However this piece of work is my own so don't rip it off. But should you feel the need to write your own sump article or plants, feel free.
While I'm at it, I might as well say that you can decorate your sump system. My first one I painted black to match the other equipment. My second one I glued on a background that matched the tank's background.


Article created by SerVo
Here is my Email Link!
Email me if you feel like it. I would especially like pics of your completed sump system.
The bio wheel 660 and Lee Specimen Container pix are from's web site, but also belong to the company and are not my own works. All other pictures are my own and free to all [Ha, now they can't sue me for piracy of copyrighted pics.]

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